April 15, 2003

Students Attend Civil Liberties Workshop

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On Saturday, members of the Ithaca and Cornell communities joined others from across the state to participate in an all-day workshop entitled “Homeland Insecurity: Domestic Racism and the Attack on Civil Liberties,” held in Goldwin Smith Hall’s Kaufmann Auditorium.

The teach-in focused on the domestic front of the war on terrorism and was divided into three separate panels: “Detentions, Deportations and Racial Profiling: Domestic Containment and the War on Terror”; “For Our Own Protection: The Attack on Civil Liberties” and “A Call to Action: Repression and Resistance.”

The panelists and approximately 70 audience members, most of whom were Ithaca residents and invited activists, discussed what they saw as encroachments on the civil liberties of South Asians, Muslims and Arabs in the United States. They also participated in a wider discourse on Americans’ civil liberties and the U.S. government’s ability to access personal information. The final panel focused on individual and group resistance efforts.

Miranda Buffman grad was part of a team of organizers that included Aaron Moore grad and Chi-ming Yang grad. Buffman stressed that the organizers “did not want to make this a Cornell event, because it isn’t. This is not just an academic issue. It is the single most important issue that people in this country will be facing in the next ten years.”

Buffman facilitated the first panel discussion, which featured Prof. Asma Barlas of Ithaca College. In her short lecture, “A Requiem for Voicelessness: Pakistanis and Muslims in the U.S.,” Barlas discussed special registration as one of the barriers preventing Pakistani and Muslim activism in the States.

In the discussion following her presentation, Barlas also spoke on oppression of Pakistanis, Muslims and South Asians.

“In an oppressive situation, it is really hard for the oppressed group to stand up and fight. There are 13 Muslims on my campus and most of us won’t stand up and be counted because there are 6,500 people who aren’t.”

Barlas spoke along with a New York City activist known only as “Anil” from South Asians Against Police Brutality and Racism (SAAPBR), an organization that is part of a larger coalition called the Blue Triangle Network, which seeks to defend violated human rights and constitutional rights of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians since Sept. 11.

Anil’s lecture, “First They Came for Muslims, Arabs and South Asians,” explored the “culture of fear” that he said dominates these minority groups in the U.S. partly as a result of the recent USA PATRIOT Act.

According to Charles Doyle’s online report for Congressional Research Services, Congress passed the act “in response to the terrorists’ attacks of [Sept. 11]. The Act gives federal officials greater authority to track and intercept communications, both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes.”

The second panel included Simran Vibha, also from SAAPBR, and Araby Carlier from the organization Refuse and Resist! Vibha and Carlier spoke on “The Encroaching Police State,” describing police efforts against the antiwar movement, and both speakers encouraged resistance.

“The rounding-up of Arabs and South Asians must be stopped before we get to a point of no return,” Vibha stated.

Moore then gave a talk on the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System, a computer system which tracks and monitors foreign students, and the stricter guidelines the system must adhere to under the USA PATRIOT Act.

Additionally, Ithaca resident Katie Williams spoke on “The Bill of Rights and the PATRIOT Act: Civil Liberties in 21st-Century America,” and Prof. Beth Harris of Ithaca College spoke on “Civil Liberties Under Fire: A Historical Context.”

According to Moore, the final discussion aimed to “bridge the gap between information and activism.” This panel included a lecture from Maya Sen of SAAPBR called “Resist Now More Than Ever,” as well as one by Maddis Senner, president and founder of the Jubilee Initiative of Syracuse, a chapter of the Canadian-based Christian social justice organization.

Senner responded to the recent arrest of detainees in Syracuse in his talk “Responding to Terror — Syracuse, Feb. 26, 2003.”

Julia Frey ’05 was one of the few Cornell undergraduates who attended the workshop.

“There is a lack of activism on campus and sometimes it is hard to stay in tune with things going on. I am making an effort to stay informed,” she said.

Matt Corley of Ithaca College also attended the workshop.

“I think it’s important to be informed on things not being talked about in the mainstream news media and the classroom. I’ve done a lot of reading on the PATRIOT Act and I came to learn more about how it is being implemented. I think the general public should know a lot more,” Corley said.

Discussion also centered on the lack of Cornell undergraduates present at the event, as many audience members expressed their hope for a larger turnout. However, the organizers of the event were pleased with the overall outcome.

“I think everyone made new contacts and learned something through the kinds of connections made in the presentations, for example, between U.S. foreign policies and domestic racism or rights of ethnic minorities and civil liberties in general. It would have been nice to have more Cornell students there, but the turnout was not bad at all,” Yang said.

Sponsors of the teach-in included the Cornell Forum for Justice and Peace, South Asian Association for Political and Academic Awareness, SAAPBR, Cornell Arab Association, Refuse and Resist!, United States Latina-Latino Graduate Student Coalition and the Tompkins County Bill of Rights Defense Committee. The event was funded in part by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Finance Commission.

Archived article by Sarah Workman